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Houston’s First Black-Owned Drive-In Closes Despite Its Success, Owner Offers Tips for Others Planning the Same Venture

Khairi Sharif, a 26-year-old Houston native, is the first Black man to open a drive-in movie theater in Houston. Located in East Downtown Houston, Space City Shows opened on Sept. 4.

Sharif got the idea to open the pop-up drive-in after being stuck at home due to the coronavirus pandemic. He researched the ins and outs of opening a drive-in from real estate to movie licensing. Sharif told Atlanta Black says he invested roughly $30,000 to open the pop-up. “The first week, I didn’t expect it to be as successful as it was,” Sharif admits. “I knew it was going to take time, and it might be slow. It might just be me and my family out here the first weekend. But you know, you have some thoughts of how you envision things, and God has other plans. Like my mama always say, do all you can do and then watch what God do. So, he did his thang.”

Over 170 cars showed up during the first weekend of Space City Shows. Sharif says his drive-in saw a total of over 2,000 vehicles during its short stay. This success came despite the absence of traditional advertising. Sharif could not advertise Space City Shows traditionally via radio, television, or newspaper because of movie licensing stipulations. However, that didn’t stop him from coming up with a plan. “Social media was the most successful marketing tool I had, and the beautiful thing about social media, it’s free,” said Sharif. “My girlfriend advised me to put out a tweet, her and one of my friends, basically describing what I was doing, who I was … and it took off from there. It caught me off guard, and then the news coverage came. I didn’t expect it.”

The theater, expected to last only three months, held its last showing on Dec 5, and Sharif finished in the black. The endeavor brought out a mixed crowd of people from all over Houston. As the showings came to an end, many moviegoers were sad to see it go.

“I’m not happy about it coming to an end, of course, because it was just a good vibe,” Eboni Johnson said. “He’s a young Black boy doing what he does for the community. It just gave us something to look up to, you know.”

Before opening Space City Shows, Sharif ran a flooring business called HTX Epoxy Floors. He specialized in flooring for residential and commercial buildings. As business slowed down due to COVID-19, he had to come up with an alternative way to support himself. “It was drying up, you know,” Sharif explained. “Folks didn’t want, you know, strangers at their home. They were saving money. They didn’t know what the future held.”

As a natural-born entrepreneur, Sharif says that while this venture is coming to an end, he’s optimistic about the future. He plans to explore more business ventures soon. “I think that it’s my calling,” he reflected. “It was planted in me as a young’un about being in business for myself, doing something for myself. This isn’t anywhere close to what I expected to do in my lifetime.”

To anyone aspiring to start a drive-in or business in general, Sharif offers this advice:

“All the resources are out there, just gotta find ’em. That’s the most important thing in business. Once you have the information, that’s what you need. No matter if it’s the money. If you need the capital, you got the info, you came up with a business plan, and you can sell it, you can get the money. You gotta be resourceful. A lot of times, things don’t go our way as entrepreneurs, and the ones who aren’t entrepreneurs or who are not as successful, they usually give up. But you gotta just have perseverance and keep going.”

Sharif has passed the torch now to another company. Rooftop Cinema Club will continue to show drive-in movies in the same location — building on the momentum created by Space City Shows.

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